TORONTO - Devon White was the best centre fielder I’d seen since a young Andre Dawson with the Montreal Expos.
I thought I knew the Gold Glover a little from his five years with the Blue Jays.
We got along, both being from Kingston — White from Jamaica, me from Canada’s first capital.
Well, I was wrong, I didn’t know the man.
Didn’t even know how to spell his last name.
“My surname was W-H-Y-T-E. When my family came to the United States, when I was a nine-year-old, some how it came out W-H-I-T-E on our papers,” said Whyte from Lexington, Ky., where he is a base-running co-ordinator for the Chicago White Sox.
“My kids were pushing for me to change to our original name.”
In 2003 the centre fielder made the switch,
“My kids, everyone now spells their name Whyte ... except for my brothers and sisters.”
How does one find out that a guy with three World Series rings (1992-93 with the Jays and 1997 with the Florida Marlins), someone who retired in 2001 has changed his name?
Easy when you answer the phone and it’s World Series hero Joe Carter calling.
“Have you checked out the Arizona Wildcats women’s hoops team?” Carter asked me.
Ah, not lately.
“Well, Devon’s daughter is the star of the team.”
I checked and sure enough, Davellyn Whyte was the Wildcats’ best.
“Ah, that’s the wrong spelling, you sure it’s his daughter?” I asked Carter.
“Yes, that’s his daughter, that’s the proper way to spell his last name,” Carter said. “All those years, all those stories ... you guys spelled his name wrong.”
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Whyte played the final season of his 17-year career in 2001 with the Milwaukee Brewers. Two years later he filed documents in Scottsdale, Ariz., to go back to the original spelling of his surname.
He took his birth certificate from Jamaica and his U.S. social security to the state’s Vital Records Bureau as proof. Two weeks later he was officially Devon Whyte.
His passport, bank account, credit cards and other documents were changed.
“Hey, it’s better than being Jose Gonzalez Uribe,” Whyte laughed.
Back in 1985, the St. Louis Cardinals traded David Green, Dave LaPoint, Gary Rajsich and a player to be named later (Jose Gonzalez) to the San Francisco Giants for Jack Clark in 1985.
When Gonzalez arrived for spring training he told one and all that he wanted to be known as Jose Uribe. Said Giants coach Rocky Bridges: “He’s the ultimate player to be named later.”
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Daughter Davellyn was Pac-10 Freshman of the Year earning All-Conference honours in 2009-10, averaging 15.7 points per game, to lead the Wildcats. Her best game was a school-record 39 points in win over Oregon.
A 5-foot-11 guard, she put her name in the Arizona record books when the Wildcats won 21 games this season, advanced to the semifinals of the Pac-10 tournament at the Staples Center and reached the post-season for the first time since the 2004-05.
“I’m proud of her,” Whyte said. “She’s got game. At 5-101/2, she’s bigger and stronger than most guards.”
During her early years dad was her teacher on the court.
“You’re down by two ... what to you do? Take a three-pointer or go for the tie?” her father would ask.
Answer: “We don’t play for ties.”
At the foul line the father would tell the daughter “you’re down by two, it’s a 1-and-1. You better make it.”
“I told her no matter how hard she works, there is a little girl in Brooklyn where I came up,” recalled Devon. “Kids all over the country think they’re the only one working hard, but someone else is working just as hard.”
Davellyn became the 17th player in Arizona school history to hit the 1,000-point mark, and only the second to do it in her sophomore campaign.
White, er Whyte, is asked if he sits next to his wife during their daughter’s games.
“Heck no,” Whyte said. “I sit across the floor. My wife screams, gets so excited watching that she hits me. I sit away from everyone. Even in high school gyms Colleen would ask questions and hit me when Davellyn took a shot or there was a loose ball.”
Whyte had an unpleasant experience with the press during his days with the Anaheim Angels and was never comfortable speaking to large scrums.
“(Davellyn) does a better interview than I ever did — she tells them what questions to ask her,” said Whyte.
Whyte taught hoops to others besides his daughter, like current Toronto Raptors guard Jerryd Bayless.
“He’s one of my kids, he’d call me Uncle Devo or Uncle D. His father is a forensic scientist, his mom a professor.”
Whyte also helped underprivileged children play on travelling teams.
There came a time mid-way through Davellyn’s high school career, when Whyte had to step back from coaching his daughter.
“Davellyn started fighting me, (at that age) she and most other kids aren’t going to always listen to their father.
“Now, she’ll ask me about a pass she made and I say ‘check the tape.’
“When kids are at that age, they have to make their own decisions.”
The proud father says: “It amazes me what my daughter does, most points in a game, second quickest to reach 1,000.”
Colleen and Devon have an older son, Thaddeus (“now that is a strong name. We named him after my father,”) who attended Morehouse University and Anaya, 17, who plays on a volleyball travelling team. She’s close to making a decision on what school to attend.
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Life on the road is lonely for a roving minor league instructor, with lots of time to look back and look ahead.
“Those Toronto teams were a special mix, everyone made a big deal when Dave Winfield arrived (1992), how he took over the clubhouse,” Whyte said. “He said some things when he arrived and we told him: ‘Dave, we’ve been doing things our way here, we’re happy you’re happy here, but we’re OK.’ ”
Other every-day players were youngsters like catcher Pat Borders and shortstop Manny Lee; introverts like first baseman John Olerud, second baseman Robbie Alomar and newcomer Candy Maldonado; an unsettled Kelly Gruber ... leaving Carter and White, the centre fielder, as the most experienced voices in the room.
The next year the lineup was revamped with Tony Fernandez at short, Ed Sprague at third and Paul Molitor, a quiet leader by example at DH. Rickey Henderson was in left.
Henderson arrived and said “I’m just here to help,” according to Whyte.
Whyte thinks about his days with the Jays and while he doesn’t say so, it sounds like he’d like to return to Toronto as Pat Hentgen and Alomar have. He’s in his first year with the White Sox after being a minor league instructor with the Washington Nationals.
“Doesn’t matter what athlete, what sport I’m talking, they all love the city,” Whyte said. “They love the city, the diversity. Who cares about the taxes?”
Whyte stole 346 bases in the majors so he can give the speedsters a tip or two.
Like during his rookie year in 1981 when a 51-day work stoppage hit the majors and Angels manager Gene Mauch showed up to work with the youngsters.
He taught Whyte how to lead off, look at the pitcher’s knee for a key as to when he’d throw to first. He showed him how to turn his eyes towards the catcher to pick up what pitch was called.
All the better to find a breaking ball and swipe second.
“First time I tried, I get off base, look at the pitcher, look out of the corner of my eyes to the plate,” Whyte told us once in a full giggle. “The next sound I hear was a POP! — the sound of the ball in the first baseman’s glove. I was out easy.”
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Joe Carter’s daughter Ebony attends Stanford, so he had seen Davellyn and the Wildcats play in Palo Alto, Calif., when visiting his daughter, who is taking her Masters degree. Davellyn scored 21 points in the Cardinal’s 87-54 win.
Carter has seen the daughter of his former outfield partner spin in mid-air, hit jumpers and no-look passes before.
“Finally, we’ve found someone from that family with some athletic ability ,” said Carter jokingly.
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In the spring of 1991 at Dunedin we finished talking with Mookie Wilson and he asked where I was from.
“Kingston,” I said.
“You should go over and tell Devon, tell him you are his ‘homey,’” Wilson said.
Finding the centre fielder’s locker, I told White I was from Kingston, like him — and was ‘his homey’”
He frowned, but later would joke about it.
“Hey I drove past your Kingston last year,” Whyte said the other day. “We drove to Ottawa to hear President Clinton speak and on the way back I saw the Kingston exit. I waved.”
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Just think of the misspellings.
Devon White’s name appeared 2,040 times in our newspaper alone ... his name was in 1,941 box scores, plus extra mentions for 378 doubles, 71 triples, 208 homers, 87 hit by pitches and 23 errors, although we don’t remember any errors under either surname, in 100s of papers and websites ... 20,800,000 mentions when you look for Devon White on google.
What happens when instructor Devon Whyte heads to the field and a memorabilia collector or autograph seeker asks him to sign a baseball card.
“Oh, when I sign I still sign W-h-i-t-e,” Whyte said.